Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services 

 Search  &  Help Recruits Military History Hall of Heroes Indigenous Slouch hat + ARMY Today Uniforms Badges

 Colours & Flags Weapons Food Equipment Assorted Medals Armour Navy Air Power 

Nurses - Medical Tributes Poetry - Music Posters & Signs Leaders The Enemy Humour Links Killing Anzac

Click to escape. Subject to Crown Copyright.
Category: Changi

Click to go up one level


The clearest indication of the Japanese contempt for their prisoners came in September 1942. During the previous month General Percival and most of the other senior British and Australian officers had been taken away to Japan, and Colonel Holmes and Colonel Galleghan were left in command of the 20,000 or so prisoners who now remained at Changi. 

At the same time Major General Fukuye and a large administrative staff arrived to establish a proper prisoner-of-war camp regime. Hardly had Fukuye arrived when four escaped prisoners were brought in. 

Two of these had got away from Bukit Timah in May, and had rowed 200 miles In a small boat before re-arrest. The Japanese, who refused to recognize the right of any prisoner-of-war to attempt to escape, announced on 30th August that all prisoners were to be given the opportunity to sign the following statement: 'I the undersigned, hereby solemnly Swear on my honour that I will not, under any circumstances, attempt to escape.' Colonel Holmes pointed out that prisoners-of-war were not allowed to give their parole, and he and his fellow officers refused to sign. 

Click for audio

This photo shows the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders on parade (in the famous hollow square formation), on the Selarang Barracks Square circa 1940

To a man the other ranks followed suit. Two days passed, with no sign of the next Japanese move. Then, on the morning of 2nd September, the senior commanders were ordered to witness the execution of the men who had tried to escape. The victims were dragged to Selarang Beach and ordered to dig their own graves. Corporal Breavington, one of the two Australians from Bukit Timah, pleaded that his comrade should be spared, saying he had ordered him to escape with him. His plea was in vain, and just before they were riddled with bullets both men stood to attention and saluted their Colonel. 'The bravest man he had ever seen', was Colonel Galleghan's tribute to his corporal.

Hard on the heels of this cold-blooded massacre came the Japanese order that all the British and Australian prisoners, apart from those in Roberts Hospital, were to concentrate at Selarang. This whole move, ordered at midday, had to be finished in five hours, and that night 15,400 men were crammed into Selarang Barrack Square, with only two water taps and totally inadequate latrines. 

For three days the prisoners held out . . .

and photographs preserving the incredible scene for posterity were taken at risk of the photographer's life. 

Click to enlarge < Selarang Barracks Square in wide shot, 1942

Close up of Selarang Barracks Square, 1942 >

Click to enlarge

The allied commanders knew that their men could not live in such conditions for long (the Japanese had even threatened to bring to the square the diphtheria cases from the hospital) and they pleaded for the declaration to be either amended or made an order. Eventually the Japanese made it an order, whereupon the British and Australian commanders ordered their men to sign the declaration under duress, pointing out that they would otherwise die of disease. 

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge

Selarang Barracks, Singapore. 1942-09. Photograph taken during the Selarang barracks square incident when Japanese general Fukuye concentrated 13350 British and 2050 Australian prisoners of war because of their refusal to sign a promise not to escape. The picture shows external excavations for latrines made necessary because of overcrowding in the barracks. (donor s. Elliman) 

This photo of the parade ground January 1943 clearly shows where the trench latrines had been. 

Changi, Singapore, 1943-01-26. The 2/29th Battalion, AIF, advancing in review order during an Australia Day parade held on Selarang barracks square.

Reluctantly, yet sensing an element of victory in the stand they had made, the men signed and on 5th September they were allowed to return to their former areas, any illusions they might previously have entertained about the Japanese having now been completely shattered.

An extract from Changi History

Webmasters note. As in all situations various accounts of the incident give conflicting details. In this example I believe the author is in error when he states that the men were crowded into the square. Photographic evidence and other accounts indicate that they were crowded into the square and the buildings. In the account below the author claims only one tap was used. That seems unlikely. 1 tap over 24 hours for 15,400 men would mean less than 6 seconds per man at the tap. It seems unlikely that it was physically possible to water that many men with the allowed 2 pints (slightly over 1 litre) per day under those conditions. Other accounts talk of 2 taps. Others of one tap per  building which would total 7. That appears to be the most likely, physically possible option as it would allow 39 seconds per man at a tap per day if the queue operated 24 hours per day which again is unlikely. Other accounts talk of water tankers on the parade ground.
George Aspinall the photographer documented the incident this way . . .

"The first and most urgent problem we had to face up to was the lack of toilet facilities. Each barracks building had about four to six toilets, which were flushed from small cisterns on the roofs. But the Japanese cut the water off, and these toilets couldn't be used. The Japanese only allowed one water tap to be used, and people used to line up in the early hours of the morning and that queue would go on all day. You were allowed one water bottle of water per man per day, just one quart for your drinking, washing, and everything else. Not that there was much washing done under the circumstances.

The Nee Soon Incident
The parade ground directly in front of our barracks was universally known as "Punjab Square" and it was considered the "Holy of Holies" in the Brigade as it had powerful bravery associated with it. We were told that when Singapore fell during the early part of the Second World War, the Japanese had taken over our barracks and had held some 300 Punjabi soldiers, standing to attention in the middle of our parade ground, in the hot son while they (the Japs) had relaxed in the shade of our barracks, drinking cool drinks and insulting the 300 Punjabi's who they had captured.
The Japanese Commander had decreed that all British soldiers on the Island had to sign a "non-escape" document, however the Punjabi soldiers refused to sign such a thing stating that it was illegal under the Geneva Convention for them to be ordered to do so.
The Japs forced the Punjabi's to stand bare-headed, and at attention for an entire day and night, then at about 1000hrs the following day, the Japanese Commander once again ordered them to sign the "non-escape" document. Yet again the Punjabi soldiers refused to sign stating that it was their duty to the King, and the British Empire to take every opportunity to try to escape and rejoin the Army of their King.
By about mid-morning the Japanese Commander ran out of patience and ordered machine guns to be brought up and cover the parade ground, then on his order the machine guns opened fire and slaughtered all 300 of the unarmed Punjabi prisoners of war. They were then buried where they the middle of our parade ground.

Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since  11 Nov 2002  



 Search   Help     Guestbook   Get Updates   Last Post    The Ode      FAQ     Digger Forum

Click for news

Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces